David Olney (Philo)

This neofolk album of morbid, pretentious songs suggests the kind of drivel Lisa Kudrow screeches on Friends for laughs. So much for its content. As for its sound, in his toneless droning of such tunes as "The Suicide Kid" or "Little Bit of Poison," Olney probably resembles Leonard Cohen most closely (although Cohen has a strong sense of melody while Olney, a Rhode Island native now based in Nashville, seems to have a good ear only for dirges). Like his principal influence, the late Townes Van Zandt, Olney worries little about commercial success. Just as well.

Bottom Line: Grim going

Mike Henderson & The Bluebloods
(Dead Reckoning)

The best part of this country blues band is its piano player, the Nashville veteran, boogie-woogie-savvy John Jarvis. His richly layered, hard-driving solos enliven such otherwise routine blues as "I Need Me A Car" and "All My Money's Gone." The same can't be said of leader-guitarist-singer Henderson, whose lead vocals evoke the white-guy-trying-to-sound-soulful desperation of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in their Blues Brothers mode. Five of the 12 songs here are originals, but the best tracks are by the late bluesmen Sonny Boy Williamson ("Mister Downchild") and Howlin' Wolf ("My Country Sugar Mama"). Henderson and the three members of his band can use all the extra authenticity they can find and are at their best when borrowing such earthy, heartfelt material.

Bottom Line: Anemic blues

Ani DiFranco (Righteous Babe)

Album of the week

The 1960s were a time when legions of young, guitar-strumming troubadours crisscrossed the land, singing socially conscious story songs that you could tap your feet to...or so some old-timers would like their socially unconscious children to believe. Well, here is a singer who seems sprung whole from that very myth. DiFranco was born in 1970 to parents whose Buffalo home was a stopping place for itinerant musicians. A performer before she was 10, she is an aggressively independent folkie with a passion for funky rhythms and lefty politics. On this, her 12th album (and second in the past 11 months), DiFranco creates a spare, mesmerizing batch of treats, including "Tis of Thee," about an America that forgets its poor and is transfixed by Jerry Springer; "Trickle Down," set in the streets of Buffalo, where "you cease to smell the steel plant after you've lived here for a while"; and a gospel-inflected ditty in which she scat-sings about an all-night rap session with "a man in the shape of a man/ holding a hat-shaped hat."

Bottom Line: Witty protest music

Buckwheat Zydeco (Tomorrow)

For 20 years, Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr. has been dishing up zydeco's musical gumbo—gobs of Creole accordion music mixed with Afro-Cuban rhythms and Southern rock-and-soul as hot and zesty as the crawfish étoufée whipped up from his wife Bernite's published recipes. Hailing from Lafayette, Louisiana's French-speaking Creole country, Dural, 51, was taught to play zydeco accordion by his father and was organist for Joe Tex and the late zydeco king Clifton Chenier before launching his own group in 1979. Now celebrating two decades at the helm of Buckwheat Zydeco with this, his 16th album—and the first on his own Tomorrow label—Dural and his nine-piece band deliver 10 tracks of propulsive, rollicking dance party music. Among the highlights: a French-language invitation to a backswamp pig roast, "Allons à Boucherie," and the reeling, mostly instrumental "Hard Chargin'," which was heard throughout Adam Sandler's The Waterboy soundtrack.

Bottom Line: Swamp-boogie joy ride

Dave Davies (Velvel/Meta Media)

His big brother and Kinks mate, Ray Davies, is regarded by many older rock fans as the finest 1960s British rock tunesmith this side of Lennon and McCartney. So it is not surprising that Dave, 53, who played raucous lead guitar but generally let his more theatrical brother take the bows, has been seen as the London-based band's more earthy Everyman during their 36-year career. So underappreciated is Dave that even the fierce, screaming guitar solo he invented for the Kinks' first hit, 1964's "You Really Got Me," was long rumored to have been the contribution of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. Now, on the heels of his first U.S. solo tour, Davies the Younger has compiled this double CD of old Kinks tunes from decades past, plus songs from three of his own solo albums. While much of this hard-rocking fare is likely to enthrall longtime Kinks fans the most, some tunes, including "You Don't Know My Name," "Suzannah's Still Alive" and new versions of such gems as "Strangers" and his own Kinks hit "Death of a Clown," prove that Dave is a talented composer in his own right and not simply a power-chord cruncher relegated to his brother's shadow.

Bottom Line: Kinks sibling hogs the spotlight, for once, and loudly

>Dave Brubeck

After four decades, jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck still marvels at the success of Time Out, the landmark 1959 album he recorded with saxman Paul Desmond, drummer Joe Morello and bass player Eugene Wright. Propelled by its unusual time signatures and the infectiously syncopated tune "Take Five," the LP became jazz's first-ever million-seller. "You couldn't dance to it," Brubeck, now 78, says of the album's unlikely success, "and it had a painting on the cover."

Brubeck, who made the cover of TIME Magazine in the 1950s, would see the album succeed again after Time Out was reissued, on CD, in 1997. It is still selling 5,000 copies a week, "more than most contemporary jazz, by far," notes Brubeck. Columbia Legacy is also rereleasing, little by little, all 57 of the Columbia albums recorded by Brubeck over the years. And there's more music coming. Brubeck, who lives in Connecticut with Iona, his wife of 57 years, still plays more than 100 shows annually and recently cut two live concert CDs. Jazz, he says, remains his fuel: "As soon as I walk onstage and the adrenaline gets going, the energy comes in."

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Mark Dagostino.